The most courageous act is still to think for yourself—aloud,” said the indomitable Coco Chanel. By that standard, the home of designer Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey in Alexandria, Virginia, which she shares with her husband and two children, expresses her particular character in a booming timbre. And that’s the point. “The space is experiential,” says Cavin-Winfrey. “You come in and immediately get a sense of who we are. It’s about our collections, the raw materials that indicate we’re not from an urban area, and things that are both old and new.” To say the interiors are idiosyncratic is to put it mildly.
Cavin-Winfrey was born, she says, to “hippie parents” in Roswell, New Mexico, (to which she attributes the uniqueness of her name) and raised in Midland, Texas. When her husband’s job brought them to the D.C. area, they purchased a 1956 rambler that had suffered many additions. They didn’t like the layout or the kit greenhouse that jutted out from the façade, but the abundance of fenestration—there were 11 skylights throughout— ensured plenty of natural light, something every Southwest girl craves.
After a few initial cosmetic changes to make it livable, the couple decided on a complete overhaul. For that, they engaged architect Christine A. Kelly and general contractor Greg Butenhoff of Butenhoff Construction. “Shazalynn described her vision for the exterior as having a wine country aesthetic,” Kelly says. “Portions of the existing house were stucco, which she liked and wanted to integrate throughout the entire exterior finish. We also designed parapet walls around the perimeter of the house and selected wood windows with an exterior black aluminum cladding to create the aesthetic she was looking for.”
Kelly also gave the home low-sloping and flat roofs, while the landscape emphasizes the cleaner Postmodernist profile with topiary-like clipped hedges and tidy flagstone paths. Inside, Kelly says, “We maintained all of the existing skylights and opened up the floor plan to create better flow and help the light stream throughout.”
Not surprisingly, the interiors are as distinctive as Cavin-Winfrey’s first name. A portrait of her with her children—by Santa Fe-based artist Erin Cone—in the entry sets the tone; mom is cropped out of the frame above the abdomen. “The place is filled with crazy stuff,” she admits rather happily: colorfully whimsical artwork; framed textiles from around the world; a tray of tortoiseshells and a handmade angel doll in the living room; an antique rocking horse covered in Phillip Jeffries wallpaper boasting the reverse colors of the same paper that covers the wall against which it sits; animal head masks in her son’s room that double as hat hooks; and an array of antique Staffordshire dogs in the master bedroom. Cavin-Winfrey the minimalist? Perish the thought. “The house is not huge,” the designer explains. “So it was important to create a cohesive color scheme with textures and subtle neutral patterns.”
The resulting creams and beiges, along with a bleached floor that “plays up the light,” allow the family’s eclectic possessions to become the focus. Because the open plan achieved Cavin-Winfrey’s desire to have “spaces fall one into the other,” the subdued palette also sidesteps a feeling of disjunction between rooms. Touches of black in every room, she says, “help ground things so it’s not all an ambiguous tone-on-tone environment.”
Furnishings are “fresh, natural and unforced,” making even the living room invitingly comfortable and intimate. And an abundance of texture—a rope-wrapped chandelier and linen curtains in the family room, slate floors and wicker stools in the study, nailhead-trimmed pieces in many spaces—impart an alluring tactility. All of these conspire to create a mise-en-scène that could belong only to this family. And though the softness of palette and abundant upholstered comfort whispers rather than bellows, in almost every other aspect, these interiors speak with a confident, full-throated and singular voice.